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UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari is rarely shy about sharing his philosophy on basketball.
In a one-on-one interview with KyForward sports editor Jon Hale, Calipari took time from a satellite basketball camp this week at Campbell County Middle School to talk about his future at UK, his scheduling philosophy, the NBA draft, next year’s team and a host of other topics.
Portions of the nearly 25-minute interview originally appeared on KyForward.com in three video segments with questions and their answers grouped by topic. Now, you can read the full transcript of the interview below, with some information that did not make the video packages. The three video segments are also posted in one location after the transcript:
Calipari: Personally, it’s putting smiles on people’s faces. I would guess that not one of those people in that gym have ever met a coach from the University of Kentucky, let alone the basketball coach. They took pictures, they got autographs, they hugged, they shook hands. At the end of this summer, we will have gone to 30 high schools, 30. That means we’re going around this state. Now, most of these kids and a lot of the other schools, they could not afford to come to our over-night camp, nor maybe could their parents drive them there, you know. So we come to them. It’s a small burst. They want their pictures and the autographs as much as the basketball. They want to hear us talk to them. One hundred kids will come, 400 adults. I’m not sure if we’re doing it for the kids or the adults.
KyForward: There are a few players here today, how important is it to get those guys involved in these events?
Calipari: It’s nice because, again, they see these kids on TV and never get a chance to see them, or touch them, or feel them or hear them talk in person. So, it’s good. I like to get the guys involved in the community. It’s a good thing. Get them to understand, it doesn’t take much to make someone smile or feel good for a week. It really doesn’t take much of your time. I think the earlier they learn that the better.
KyForward: How many of those ’400 adults’ on this trip have given you scheduling advice?
Calipari: I had a guy in Cincinnati, an older gentleman, shake my hand and say ‘You did a good job with that team. There’s only one guy I know who could do better.’ I go, ‘Really, who’s that?’ He says, ‘Me.’ I said, ‘Well join the one of four million who probably think that.’
This state, everybody says how do you do it? This state wants you to be in the hunt. Now, they don’t think you can win it every year. They want you to try to. They want you to be there. They want you to have an opportunity. Two years ago, we go 0-20 against West Virginia or in my opinion we win the national title. Last year, not this past season but the year before with Brandon Knight, we play our worst game against Connecticut in the Final Four. The worst game we had played all year. If we win that game — just play half as bad — we win the title then. Then this year, we win it. What I’m saying is we were up at-bat every year. We didn’t win it every year, but we had our chances. I think that’s what people in this state want, and you know what? It’s what they deserve.
KyForward: Did you every feel like your track record should have allowed you to tell people you knew what you were doing in regards to scheduling, so just let me do it?
Calipari: No, they do. There’s going to be a few. Now, the other schools are not happy with us. One, they all want to play us in their building because it fills their building, it makes their schedule. I’m not scheduling for America, I’m scheduling for the University of Kentucky. Our people are starting to understand we can play whoever we want. We’re adding two more league games, NCAA teams. You have North Carolina, and you have Louisville. You want to play in football stadiums, I’ve already explained why. You want to play as many neutral-site games where you’re splitting tickets. Why? Because it’s a NCAA environment.
The people in our state want us to be prepared to make that run. When they understand it’s hard to just do both — you can’t play 10 of those kind of games, so you play six, maybe seven. You either fit in our schedule or you don’t. I think people understand. There was a small percentage of our people. Now, other schools, you don’t play us? What? I made the statement, ‘We play this team, that team, that team and that team, but they don’t play each other. They all play us. Start playing each other. You play each other. You don’t just have to have Kentucky on your schedule.’
KyForward: Did it seem to you as well like the Indiana story just would not go away?
Calipari: Yeah, I think, you know, always the ‘he said, she said.’ It’s done. It’s done, we’re not playing. We had opportunities to play neutral-site games with them in their state, they chose not to, which is OK. I’m not mad about it. It is what it is, and we both move on.
Kyforward: Is the schedule finished?
Calipari: I think we have most of it finished. We’ve got some specific dates we have to fill, maybe one. The rest of it is how are we building the remaining schedule for the next two years? Now we’re not going to get way out ahead, but for the next two years what football stadiums are we playing in? How are we doing it? Can we get a tripleheader done? Can we do that? If we can do that — get that tripleheader done where we’re playing men’s and women’s basketball on a Friday, and then on that Saturday we’re playing football against the same school — it would be kind of neat.
Kyforward: What are the logistical issues with scheduling that tripleheader?
Calipari: It’s hard. You got to get two leagues that will give byes to their football teams at the same time, and it’s got to be early November. That’s when you’d have to do it. I think some leagues would come together and say ‘let’s do this.’ How quickly can they flip a field? Can they flip a field as quickly as we need to? Do we play a Saturday afternoon game and a Sunday game, which would go against the NFL? Or do you do what we’re saying, let’s play a 5 o’clock, a 7 o’clock on Friday then play that football game on Saturday, later in the day.
KyForward: Do you have specific schools in mind?
Calipari: We do. You know, we’re playing one doubleheader with our women, we want to continue to do that. You know, Matthew just came in and said, ‘Cal, I appreciate it. You don’t understand what this does for us. It kind of starts setting us apart as a program.’ If we can do that for them, or if we can help football in any way to tie us all together because right now things are going well.
You talk about us academically — 10 out of our 14 players had a B average, 10 out of 14. We had almost, it was a 3.2 grade-point average as a team, second term while we were in the NCAA tournament. Everyone finished the term, all of their classes. There was no one that took just two classes. They finished them all. Our freshmen had a 4.0, 3.7, 3.0 and a 3.0. Three of them put their names in the NBA draft, yet finished the term. So, I’m proud of them.
KyForward: There was a publicized incident in your first year when one player didn’t finish the term. Outside of that, how have you found future NBA stars that have cared enough to finish it?
Calipari: They care enough to be responsible, and responsible to each other because how they do will affect the next class coming in and the next class coming in. Everyone is responsible for the next guy. We tell them, ‘We’re going to be there for you. We’re going to do everything we can to help you, but you need to be also loyal to us and this program and finish the term.’ They all do. We’ve had one in three years that has not.
KyForward: You’re first three teams have had at least one veteran contributor — Patrick Patterson, Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller. Do you have that player for next year, or are you still looking?
Calipari: We’ll see. It could be Kyle (Wiltjer). We have Julius (Mays) coming in, maybe he steps up as a senior, a veteran that’s had experience. Maybe he steps up and does it. But we’ll see. Maybe it’s a freshman. I don’t want it to be one guy. I always want to teach a lot of players what it means to lead and how to lead. We talk about servant leadership. You serve if you lead on this team. We had a lot of guys do that this past year.
KyForward: You haven’t talked much about Julius Mays yet because of NCAA transfer rules. What do you see from him for next season?
Calipari: It’s going to be important. He gets a veteran on this team, a known commodity to score the ball. In my opinion, he will even be better with better players around him. He was on a team that they played him, he was their scorer. Now all of the sudden, they can’t just play you. Everybody gets their looks, which has happened for us in the past.
KyForward: Are all the new players on campus yet?
Calipari: No. With Nerlens (Noel) reclassifying he had some other stuff he had to get done. We’re hoping they’re all here in I think two weeks.
KyForward: Some of the players on campus have already been tweeting pictures of the new Wildcat Coal Lodge. What does that bring to the program?
Calipari: We’re the gold standard in so many fronts. We’re going to have a new locker room at Rupp Arena. You have Rupp Arena. You have the Craft Center for practice, which is as nice as any in the country. Now you have housing. You have academic support in CATS, which in my opinion is the best in the country which is why we’re doing so well. They’re surrounded by all the things they need to succeed on that court and in the classroom. You have everything you need.
The history shows 15 players drafted in the last three years. Do you know we have a chance of getting a six-man on two different teams drafted in the first round? If Darius gets drafted in the first round, that’s two out of three years our six-man was drafted in the first round. That’s crazy.
KyForward: Have your heard anything more about where UK players might go in draft after the combine?
Calipari: Everybody said Darius was great. I’m so happy for him. It shows you. Before the season, they said he was European at best and that’s after starting two years in the SEC. Then as the year went on, they’re all like wait a minute. As the sixth man, he proved he was a No. 1 pick. You don’t have to start. It’s an ego thing. You start some games, come off the bench, it doesn’t matter. It’s can you play or not? Will you sacrifice for your team? What everybody is excited about Darius is one he can really play, but two, he sacrificed for everybody. I want him on my team. I’m just crossing my fingers because I know he played great in Chicago. I want him in the first round for he and his family, but also for every other kid in the country to look at and say ‘Wait a minute, he did stick around four years. He started two, and his senior year he came off the bench. And he went from maybe draftable, maybe not, European player, to first-round.’ Wow. That’s a great story.
KyForward: There was a report this week that a NBA scout had questioned how well prepared your players were for the NBA. Did you see those comments, and how would you respond?
Calipari: I didn’t see them, but the numbers don’t speak that way. I would tell you because kids play here, I think that’s part of the reason they get drafted where they are. Five, six players in the last five years that we’ve coached have been on the all-rookie team and a couple on the edge of it. It’s more than just six. You’re talking probably seven, eight, nine because the others were right on the edge of making the all-rookie team. I think our kids when they walk in that league are as prepared as a college kid can be. Now, are any of them like ready to run in there? I don’t know. I’m talking any college player, but I would say ours are as prepared if not more prepared even though I don’t know what that means because walking in that league is a different deal.
Calipari: It’s moving back. It may be seven or eight years now. Not really. I think to do this job here in the seat I’m in, it should have term limits that you have no choice but to step down because if you’re going to do it at the pace you have to do it…Why would you have these camps around the state? You’ve got to get in the bus, you’ve got to get up at seven in the morning, you’re going till seven at night. Now, you’re still coaching the Dominicans, which means you’re getting home at 10. You just won the national title, the season just ended. That’s what coaching at Kentucky is about. These people want to see you. They want you out there. It’s easier to stay at home and golf. It really is, but it is not what is called for when you’re sitting in this seat.
KyForward: Speaking of the Dominican team, if they qualify for the Olympics will you go to London?
Calipari: Yeah. I would coach them. That would be part of the reason I’m doing this is an unbelievable opportunity if I had a chance to coach in the Olympics. It’s really going to be a difficult task. We have a nice team, but Lithuania, Greece, Russia, Masadonia, Puerto Rico, New Zeleand, I mean you’re talking six of the best teams in the world and us are playing for three spots. It’s three. Now, you don’t have to beat all of them. Half of them are on the other side. What happens is, if we can get to the quarterfinal — eight teams left — which I believe we can, win that game, there’s four teams left. Us and three others. Three are going. Go one-and-one. You just have to win one game, and you’re in. So, that’s our goal. It’s going to be hard because the quarterfinal game is going to be a team that may have three NBA players on it. Like, wholly cow, they’ve got three NBA players. The teams are good. It’s going to be a hard run for us.
Calipari: And friends, who had to ‘Well he’s never won one and all that.’ I said before the game a friend of mine said, ‘How does it feel to be known as the best coach to never win a title?’ Is that a compliment? I don’t even know what that means. Then after we won the championship, ‘Coach how’s it feel to be the worst coach that ever won a championship?’ You can’t win, and that’s why you don’t buy it. If they’re saying great stuff, I don’t buy it. If they’re saying the awful stuff, I don’t buy it either. I am who I am. I try to do the best job for these players. We’re a players first-program.
I am so transparent. If you go back and listen to what I said at the press conference the very first day I was here, am I walking that dog that way? Am I doing what I said, or am I on that path of trying to do what I said we’d try to do here? I haven’t changed. I mean, if there are any issues I go right and blog it. I tell people how I’m thinking. I think you’ve got to be that way here so everybody is informed. You may not agree with me. You may agree with me, but at least you know where I stand. In most cases, I stick by my convictions. I always say this: ‘Doing what is right is not always popular, and doing what’s popular is not always right.’ So I have certain convictions that I stick by, which is I’m not scheduling for America. This is a hard place to play. It’s a hard place to coach. It’s not for everybody. We’re going to go after the best and the brightest. We want to be the gold standard. There’s convictions that I will not change on. You may agree with me, may not, but that’s how I’ve done this from day one.
KyForward: You’ve been up front about running a ‘players-first program’ and not coaching specifically for championships, but you also wrote on your website you wanted to catch UCLA’s championship record. How do you balance those goals?
Calipari: First of all, if you’re doing this for yourself the kids always know. If it’s all about me, they know. If you make it about them, they know. If we won a national title and no one was drafted, I’d be disappointed. I’d be happy for the school, happy for the program, happy for the state, but disappointed for my team. We win a national title, have a 3.2 grade-point average and six guys get drafted. That’s a little bit of everything would you say? But that’s Kentucky. How many schools can do that? We can, so why not do it. If you’re a players-first program the decisions you make will always be about them. Scheduling, it’s about the players, because that’s the program.
It’s nontraditional, the way it’s going. This program was started by a nontraditional coach, Adolph Rupp, who played eight neutral games in 1948. Why did he do it? He wanted to make this a national program. So instead of just playing home and different road, playing around the country in big arenas and New York City and Chicago, he played eight neutral games. From that time in 1948, we’ve been a national program every since. That was his vision. We have the same kind of vision now that we’re a national program. We don’t have to just play home games. We can play in football stadiums, we can play anywhere we want to play. You may be at another school not happy about it, too bad. We can recruit anywhere we want to recruit because we’re nontraditional. The tradition of this program has been nontraditional.
You talk about our new housing, the Coal Lodge. How did we get that built? Where did that idea come from to have a lodge for your players and some other students? Joe B. Hall. Now where in the world did he come up with that idea in the 70s? That he was going to build a lodge for his players because this is a different deal here. These dudes are like rock stars. You can’t put them in the general (population). ‘Well they should be like every other student.’ They’re not like every other student. You cannot treat them like any other student. You’d like to, but you cannot. He knew that in the 70s. If he doesn’t build that in the 70s, do we build this now? No. This program has been built, the tradition has been built on being nontraditional.
KyForward: Do you know what UK will do with the old Wildcat Lodge?
Calipari: I don’t know yet. I don’t know. As soon as we moved out, that’s…I have enough trouble coaching basketball.
KyForward: Jon Hood is at the camp today. What is his status for the upcoming season?
Calipari: He’s 100 percent to go. Now he’s going to have to go out there and perform. He’s got an opportunity. Twany (Beckham) does. Jarrod (Polson) does. Those guys all got a chance now. You go out there and perform, you’re on the court. If you don’t, you’re not. I haven’t changed that. I’ll play eight guys, nine guys, or I’ll play five or six guys.
KyForward: You’ve said that you can never predict who will declare for the draft early, but are the NCAA rules set up in a way that you will have to sprinkle in a recruit who you think will be at school for four years every so often?
Calipari: How do you know? Unless you just take a guy you know absolutely this kid will never be drafted. Do you want that guy? You recruit the best players you can, do the best job you can with them. At the end of every year they and their family make a decision, do you come back or do you go pro? I don’t know another way of doing it. You recruit the best players. If a kid has a great year and you fool him into staying another year, you would do that to someone else’s child? Children we’re talking about here, 19-years-old, 18-years-old. I could fool them in a minute. I could get them in a room in one hour and convince them that they’re absolutely not ready — ‘I’ve talked to seven GMs and you need to stay. I’ll have you talk to this one, and he’ll tell you.’ I would never do that. I let the families decide. If they need help with the information, I’ll help them get information.
I don’t know another way of doing this other than doing what we’re doing and recruit the best players we can, do absolutely the best job, don’t hold them back. If they deserve to be playing, scoring, shooting, and our best player is a freshman, go for it. What happens when you do it that way, you’re all concerned about them, you know what’s funny? They drag us to where we’re trying to go. They drag us. You don’t drag them. You don’t drag a team to a national championship. Whoever thought, ‘I’m going to coach ‘em up, you know I can coach.’ What? They drag us.
You know the great thing about Kentucky? How many coaches have won national titles here? (Rupp, Hall, Pitino, Smith, you) So there’s five? How many have won more than one here? Adolph Rupp is the only one to win more than one. So five different coaches have won national titles here. So what it tells you then is man if you get to go do this and get it going, you can win national titles at Kentucky. Five different guys. At any other school, I think the most is two. Well then, why does Kentucky have five different? Because the program started in a nontraditional way by a coach that made it national and gave it a chance when you come here. That’s why I said I wanted to coach here. You have a chance to win national titles. That’s why you coach at Kentucky, not because you’re afraid of it, not because you’re going to shelter yourself, not because you don’t want the pressure. You come here because — it doesn’t mean you’re going to win every year — but you have a chance every year.
In 2010, we don’t go 0-20 against West Virginia, in my opinion we win the national title. In 2011, Brandon Knight and our team in New Jersey played as well as any kid in the country beating North Carolina and Ohio State. We beat Ohio State and North Carolina back-to-back, we play Connecticut in the Final Four in the worst game we played all year. If we played half as good as we’d been playing, we may have won the national title then too. Then this year, I don’t think it was us and the field. We we’re a really good team. You have a chance here. Every year, you’re at bat. All we’re trying to do is get our team to be unselfish, get them to play for each other, get them to play with a desire and understand we’re going to be here for them. They drag us where we’re trying to go.
KyForward: You talked about term limits, and it seems like the perception has been that at least with Tubby Smith he stayed too long. Have you talked to former coaches about that idea?
Calipari: You know what you should have here? Probably two four-year terms. You should be on the presidential thing. Sometimes you don’t get the second term (laughs). That’s just how it is. I would tell you that three terms…Roosevelt, you know what happened to him in his third term right? I’ve gotten gray. I look at myself now… Somebody showed me a picture of myself at the Derby two years ago, I looked about 15. I look at myself now in two years… I’m having a ball. I enjoy it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else coaching, anywhere else other than here. But it’s a grind. It’s not easy.
You can see the video packages from the interview below
Photo and videos by Jon Hale.